City finally gets on legal aid bandwagon

A couple of weeks ago we posed the question: do City lawyers give a stuff about legal aid? Despite all indications to the contrary, it’s starting to look like it.

First came the long shot of a petition against the Government’s proposed legal aid reforms and an effort to mobilise support behind the fight to save UK justice actually successfully attracting more than 100,000 signatures. Now, the City of London Law Society (CLLS) has confirmed that it has joined the fight to defend access to justice in publicly-funded legal work.

Cue a U-turn by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling on the right for criminal legal aid clients to choose their solicitors.

In an open letter, CLLS chair and former Travers Smith chief Alasdair Douglas said City law firms recognised that the legal aid reforms currently set out by the Government “pose a potentially irreversible risk to the standards and reputation of English justice”.

On Wednesday Grayling is set to give oral evidence before the Commons Justice Select Committee on the proposals in the Government’s legal aid consultation paper. We can expect to see him bend on the need for legal aid clients to have the right to choose their solicitors, and to compromise on a more gradual approach to consolidation of the market, after efforts by the Law Society to water-down the Government’s original proposals.

Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, however, admits that the tweaked reforms were the merely “least worse solution.” Hardly an overwhelming endorsement of the negotiations so far.

Will a more vociferous response from the City help to sway the powers that be? We can only hope so.

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